Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chocolate Cake in a Hurry!

Whilst doing a bit of surfing around the internet the other night I came across a recipe that just sounded way too easy to believe but not wishing to be a Doubting Thomasina, I decided to gather up the ingredients and give it a go.  After all, what did I have to lose but five minutes and a few ingredients? 

5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract
  1. Add dry ingredients to one large microwave-safe coffee mug and mix well.
  2. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
  3. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
  4. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract and mix again.
  5. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
  6. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed, it's not going anywhere
  7. Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired. Then EAT! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).
I apologize for the quality of the pictures, I took them with my iPhone under less than ideal lighting conditions as I was just too lazy to go dig out the Nikon - mea culpa! 

I left the tasting of the cake to the resident teenager and snack expert who proclaimed it to be quite delicious though it definitely had the consistency of a microwave cake.  I think next time I make this I'll try to make sure I have some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream in the house as I think that would do it up real nice - not to mention make it even more of a danger than chocolate cake in 5 minutes already is!

Oh - and lest I forget - happy last day of February!  Kiss the month goodbye and point me towards tomorrow!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Local Theft That Breaks My Heart

Some things in life I just find totally appalling as there are some things in life that I'd like to think are sacred and would be treated as such however, I guess I am forgetting that there are some people out there who have absolutely no respect whatsoever. A reminder of that fact was brought home to me the other day when I read the following story in the Norwich Bulletin:
Century Old Statute Missing from Yantic Cemetery
Norwich Bulletin
Posted Feb 23, 2010 @ 12:27 PM
Last update Feb 23, 2010 @ 04:55 PM
Norwich, Conn. —

A century-old historic bronze statue has disappeared from the Yantic Cemetery on Lafayette Street in Norwich.

Norwich police are investigating the likely theft of the life-sized statue that marked the grave of Sarah Osgood and was part of the Osgood family memorial - one often most photographed monuments in Norwich, said historian David Oat.

“This is quite a loss for us in the city of Norwich and anyone who values Norwich history,” Oat said. “I can’t tell you, it makes me sad to find out this had been taken - and from a cemetery.”

The value of the statute, a woman wearing a veil crouched over a gravestone, is unknown. Oat said the missing statue was discovered by a woman walking through the cemetery.

Anyone with information should contact the Norwich Police Department at (860) 886-5561.

Police are investigating "the likely theft of the life-sized statute"??  Excuse me, how about the obvious theft of the life-sized statute as there's no way it got up and walked away on its own or someone just removed it for a little while to clean it! "Likely theft" my left foot - enough with the politically correct b.s. of newspapers!  The statute is gone which means some asshat(s) took it without giving a damn about what it meant to people.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have spent a lot of time in the Yantic Cemetery (especially now that I live withing walking distance) so while reading that story I felt a sense of personal loss as I've taken many pictures of Sarah over the years and have always said that hers was my favorite monument in the Yantic Cemetery.  It was a beautiful tribute to someone who was obviously very well-loved.  To know that there were at least several dirtbags out there who thought it was okay to remove that statute from its place of honor in the cemetery just makes my blood boil.

The statute of the beautiful kneeling woman adorned the grave of Sarah Larned, wife of Charles Osgood, and was located towards the back of the cemetery so I'm sure that it was easy for several people to go unnoticed as they loaded her up and spirited her away.  No doubt this had to be a well-thought out plan as it wasn't like you could just pick the statute up and walk away with it.  Oh no, some morons carefully plotted this theft out and probably stole the statute so that they could sell it as I rather doubt they're going to display it in their front yard.

Honestly, this just makes me sick.

A few years ago there was an incident where vandals went though the Yantic Cemetery and broke over 100 of the gravestones located there.  A senseless act of destruction against the monuments of loved ones who had passed on. That act of mindless vandalism prompted the city to install floodlights at the cemetery so that local neighbors could report any sort of suspicious activity to the police and hopefully prevent the desecration of any more graves.  I believe that they have been successful in that but unless someone was walking through the cemetery at the time of this heinous theft, there's no way anyone would have seen it occur. 

And unless someone who knows firsthand about this horrible crime develops a conscience and calls police, I'm afraid that Sarah may be gone forever.  You honestly have no idea how sad this make me not just at the loss of a beautiful monument but at the realization - once again - that there are those out there who just don't give a damn about other people and how their actions affect them. 

Whoever you are and wherever you may be - I sincerely hope that the spirits of not just Sarah Larned and her husband Charles Osgood haunt your miserable lives for the rest of your living days but that the entire population of the Yantic Cemetery stalks your thieving asses and makes your lives a living hell.  As I doubt you'll ever get the jail time that you so richly deserve, I sincerely hope that karma does what the police can't. 


The above picture of Amanda and Sarah was taken in October of 2007 and will always be one of my favorites.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Looking at the Sky on Friday While Listening to Five on Friday

What does a gal do when there are two pretty cool Friday memes out there to participate in? Why combine the two, that's what!  Visitors today get a two 'fer as I just couldn't pass up either meme!

Tisha at CrAzY Working Mom has been hosting Looking at the Sky on Friday for quite some time now and it's a great meme that gives us the chance to show off some of our best sky shots - or the ones that we think are pretty darned good anyway! To that end I give you a shot of some fluffy white clouds and beautiful blue skies - something we here in New England haven't seen since Monday being that we are under the very gray clouds of a massive storm that has engulfed a good part of the Northeast.  Rumor has it we may get some sunshine back on Monday but in the meantime the best we can do is look longingly back at pictures from the past and wait patiently for more in the future.

The other meme that I have been wanting to participate in is a new one by a West Coast blog buddy, Travis, who recently began Five on Friday where we can share a playlist of five of our favorite songs no matter what them we might be thinking of.  Being a complete and total music lover, this meme just kept screaming my name so here's my first go at it.

Get a playlist! Standalone player
I decided to post five of my favorite pieces of music by film score composer and music producer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer. The man has done the music for over 100 different films including some of my favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean (the series), The Dark Knight, The Holiday, The Lion King, Backdraft, Driving Miss Daisy, Gladiator, and one of his most recent projects - Sherlock Holmes - for which he is up for an Academy Award that I sincerely hope he wins!

I'm one of those people who listens intently to the soundtrack when I go to a movie as I just love how film composers work their magic making the movie that much more enjoyable.  Amanda seems to have inherited that same trait as her iPod contains more Hans Zimmer music than mine does at the moment!  Thank goodness those years in concert band didn't go wasted!

It was hard to limit myself to just five pieces of music for this week as Hans Zimmer has so much good music out there but I chose - in order on the player - "Discombobulate" from Sherlock Holmes, the main theme from Backdraft, "Maestro" from The Holiday, "And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad" from The Dark Knight, and "Drink Up Me Hearties" from Pirates of the Caribbean:  At World's End.

Please enjoy this week's visual and audio presentations and don't forget to visit Tisha's Looking at the Sky on Friday for more great pictures and Travis' Five on Friday for more great music!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday Things

Yesterday - the 7th anniversary of my father's death - was pretty much what I would expect from the 24th of February - dark, rainy, and dismal.  Funny how some days just tend to match the anniversary. Just as Green Day's Bille Joe Armstrong wrote in Wake Me Up When September Ends  -

I've got to agree that the 7 years has gone so fast and sometimes I have to do the math a couple of times over to make sure it really has been that long. That doesn't mean that any of my family has forgotten by any stretch of the imagination, though, and I guess it was only fitting that yesterday was raining buckets - in my world anyway.  Feel free to wake me up when February ends.

On a lighter note, Amanda had an assignment in her Advanced Drawing class to do a self-portrait in graphite and this is the end result -

At least, that's a picture of the end result as the actual end result itself is being mounted and matted and then going on display at an art gallery in Mystic with a price tag attached!  Of the 16 students in her class, Amanda's drawing is the only one going on display which I think is pretty danged cool (insert goofy proud parent grin here).  Once Amanda remembers to find out just which art gallery the portrait is going to be displayed at I'll be sure to take a trip down there and get a picture of the picture. 

In regards to her artwork, she's happiest with how the nose came out but I'm pretty impressed with both the hands and the eyes.  Well, actually as a non-artist, I'm darned impressed with the whole piece!  If it doesn't sell, I'm pretty sure I've got a nice spot on the wall for it myself even though I see that exact same look in real life quite frequently!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Can Haz Cheeseburger - and Fries!

The topic of really good cheeseburgers came up at work last Thursday afternoon and after I had mentioned that I really enjoyed the Old Timer Burger at Chili's, my dispatch partner Jeff said that as far as he was concerned Five Guys made THE best ever cheeseburgers; that opinion was quickly seconded by our scheduler, Chica.

Now the only thing I knew about Five Guys was that Amanda had raved about the place when she used to go down to New Jersey to visit her friend Darci but I'd never actually been to one myself. As a matter of fact, I was under the mistaken impression that the closest one to us was way up in Enfield - which is north of Hartford - as I'd seen the sign the couple of times we'd driven up to see Sami. Jeff immediately set me straight on that one and said that there was one down in Mystic in the same plaza as Starbucks - a relatively easy drive and definitely within striking distance of Norwich.

With the sun shining this past Saturday (something it is most definitely NOT doing today), Amanda and I set out for Mystic in search of Five Guys and their legendary cheeseburgers around 2:00 p.m.  The small shop was very easy to find as I knew where the Starbucks was but it is most definitely unassuming; chances are if you didn't know it was there, you'd never even think to look there as it just blends in with the rest of the shops.

Even though it was after lunchtime, there was still a pretty good crowd inside the restaurant that reminded me a bit of California's famous In n' Out Burger with its red and white-checked color scheme though the peanut shells all over the floor weren't something one would ever see at an In n' Out!  

Apparently one of the attractions of Five Guys is the big boxes of peanuts they put out for their customers to help themselves to while waiting for their order to be ready and the floor is the accepted place for the shells.  Okay ... I was just going to have to remember to walk carefully as I could just see myself slipping on peanut shells and landing on my butt in the middle of the dining area!

The menu is pretty simplistic which in my opinion is the hallmark of a good burger joint and Amanda wasted no time in ordering a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and pickles while I ordered a basic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo; two small fries and one root beer completed our order.  Before we barely had a chance to crack open a few peanuts (stupid me didn't want to throw the shells on the floor so put them in a neat pile on the table!) our number was called and I brought a brown paper sack back to our table that felt awfully darned heavy for just two burgers and two orders of fries. I soon found out why and wish I had know this before ...

The fries at Five Guys are apparently rather famous not just for their flavor but for their quantity.  Sure, they put some of your fries in a small cup but your order of fries doesn't stop there - they overflow the cup and take up a good portion of the paper sack, too!  Our two small orders of fries could have fed a family of six with fries left over for another meal!  Were there such a place as French Fry Heaven, surely we had entered it!

I had to laugh today as I sat down to write this post as one of the news articles that popped up on Yahoo! actually mentioned that Five Guys french fries had once again made the Men's Health list of America's Worst French Fries.  According to the article, Five Guys fries rate as the "Worst Regular Order of Fries" with the following stats:

Five Guys Fries (large)
1,464 calories
71 g fat (14 g saturated)
213 mg sodium
"Unfortunately, Five Guys doesn’t offer anything but fries in the side department. Your safest bet, of course, is to skip the fries altogether (you’d be better off adding a second patty to your burger), but if you can’t bring yourself to eat a burger sans fries, then split a regular order. That will still add 310 calories to your meal, but it beats surrendering more than 75% of your day’s calories to a greasy paper bag."
Well, heck - it would have been nice to know that before Saturday! Even without benefit of this article, though, I made a mental note to only ask for one regular order the next time we were there as Amanda and I brought home what seemed like half a bag of fries which she later ate for dinner.  Oh, and according to the sign displayed in the restaurant, our fries that day came from Shelley, Idaho potatoes.  It's always good to know whose potatoes you're eating!

But enough about the fries and how bad they are for you (though they taste really, really good!) - what about that cheeseburger?  Ah yes, that cheeseburger!   I really was not expecting a double-patty monstrosity that barely fit on the bun but that is exactly what greeted me when I unwrapped the foil it came in and let me tell you ... it was GOOD!  Granted, I had to put it down and make ample use of several napkins between just about every bite but when it comes to cheeseburgers, that's not a bad thing!

I'd have to say that my Five Guys cheeseburger was very possibly the very best cheeseburger that I have had in a long time - bar none!  It was juicy, it was flavorful, it was sliding off the bun ...   It was well worth the drive down to Mystic!  Granted, I wouldn't want to make a regular habit of Five Guys burgers as I've got a pretty good idea that they aren't good for one's arteries at all but if you're going to treat yourself then this is a good way to do it.  Just remember to ask for one regular order of fries to split with your entire family!

So, who's hungry??

Monday, February 22, 2010

Take This Tune - The "Hit the Road" Version

My friend Jamie began a meme awhile back called Take This Tune wherein she gives us a different musical prompt each week and we then write a post based on wherever that prompt may take us.  This week's prompt was suggested by myself and involved a little toe-tapping bit of music called Radar Love by the Dutch hard rock band Golden Earring.

There are actually two songs by Golden Earring that are must-have's on my iPod - the aforementioned Radar Love which was released in 1973, climbed to #13 on the US charts, and was dubbed one of the Top Ten Driving Songs of All Time by music critic Bill Lamb; and 1982's Twilight Zone. Written by George Kooymans, founder of the band, Twilight Zone climbed to #10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart making it the band's only #1 hit in the country.

A lot of that was probably due to what was then a fledgling little music network called MTV - which actually showed lots and lots of music videos back then! One of the first to feature a cinematic storyline and dance choreography, Twilight Zone's music video features a storyline with lead singer Barry Hay as an espionage agent who is apprehended by three henchmen (played by the other members of the band - Rinus Gerritsen - bass and keyboards, Cesar Zuiderwijk - drums and percussion, and George Kooymans - guitarist and vocalist).

The song, which was inspired by the famous TV series of the same name, paints the portrait of "a double-crossed messenger, all alone" who is trying to carry out his mission only to find himself betrayed at every turn starting with the very first words of the song - "Somewhere in a lonely hotel room there’s a guy starting to realize that eternal fate has turned it's back on him" - and continuing right through to the chorus:
"Help, I'm stepping into the Twilight Zone
This is a madhouse, Feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and star
Where am I to go now that I've gone too far?"
What really makes this song one of my very favorites - especially for a turn behind the wheel - is the instrumental break that blends Kooymans' hard-hitting almost-bluesy guitar work with some kick-ass percussion by Zuiderwijk along with just enough synthesizer from Gerritsen to make this a really good 80's tune. My biggest problem with it is being able to drive while tapping my foot to the beat and keeping myself from singing along if there's someone else in the car!

As an added bonus for Jamie, I thought I'd throw in another video of a song that Amanda and I always play when taking a road trip whether it be to Baltimore, the Pennyslvania Dutch County, the middle of Massachusetts, Sleepy Hollow in New York, or pretty much anywhere else we've traveled to ... not only has it got a very snappy beat but I'm pretty sure Jamie is going to love the "star" of the video!

So how about you? Got a favorite song or two for when you hit the road? Let me know and if it's good, I promise to add it to my iPod for my own future travels!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Scenery

Mystic Mallards
I shot this picture while Amanda and I were down in the Mystic, Connecticut area yesterday in search of what I had been told was "the best cheeseburger ever". We found it and it was!  Details will be forthcoming on that later but for now, everyone have a great Sunday and do something nice for yourself - you deserve it! 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of Lucky Scarves and Speeding Trains

As is so often the case here in New England, the weather just couldn't make up its mind what it was going to do yesterday. It was sunny! It was overcast! It was sunny again! It was overcast again! Sigh ...  Oh well, there's not much you can do about the weather except adapt so once I finally made up my mind that yes, I was going to go try to get a train picture or two, I decided the best way to go about it was to bundle up before heading out.  Layers are definitely the way to go and it also helps if you have a really nice scarf that was sent to you as a surprise gift (thanks again, Sheila!).

It was almost noon-time so I decided to head down to Stoddard Hill where I had gone a couple times before and come back with pictures of the lovely swans that reside there but no trains.  I was hoping my timing might be a little better this outing as I was taking the advice of Tom Nanos, a local photographer who takes some amazing railroad pictures that you can check out for yourselves if you'd like to visit Tom Nanos' Railroad Photography Blog.  Trust me, it's well worth the click!

Tom stumbled onto my blog through a Google search and has been giving me some helpful email hints on when/where I can possibly catch a train.  It's also been very helpful for me to study the pictures on his blog to see exactly where he was (and what time it was) when he took a particular picture.  I've been following that up with a few reconnaissance missions down by the Thames River in order to scope out the area ahead of any attempted photo-hunts.  I've really been enjoying the challenge of railroad photography but I gotta tell ya, I'm going to like it a lot better when the weather warms up!

Anyhow, back to yesterday at Stoddard Hill and the side of the Thames River!  When I got there it seemed like the best I was going to get was a few pictures of empty railroad tracks as it was just a little too windy and overcast for me to want to stay out by the river for too long.  The sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds and was in more than it was out no matter what you might think by looking at the sky in this picture!

Empty Tracks
Just as I was about to pack it in for the day and continue down to Groton to get the other pictures I needed for a future post, I heard a train horn in the distance. Could it be? Were the Train Gods with me for a change?  Perhaps Sheila's scarf had brought me some luck!

P&W NR3 heading north 
Sure enough, as I looked south I was rewarded with the sight of a Providence & Worcester train coming around the corner and towards me. Woohoo!

It wasn't exactly a very long train but I wasn't complaining - it was A train!

P&W NR2 Near Stoddard Hill
I've gotten used to trying to take pictures of NECR trains which move a lot slower than this P&W one was going so I knew I was going to be lucky to get maybe one or two good shots before the train was past me.

Lead engine of P&W NR2
I think perhaps this one above qualifies as a decent shot - least ways I was pleased with it!

Back engine of P&W NR3 at Stoddard Hill

Bringing up the rear of the train was another engine which had zoomed past before I knew it!  

At least now I've got a good idea of how fast the trains move as they head towards Norwich and points north so perhaps I'll be able to get a few more shots off next time as you know that I will definitely be trying again before too long! And you can by-golly bet I'll be bringing my lucky scarf along, too!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Looking at the Sky on Friday

I'm posting rather late today as it took me quite awhile to stir my stumps out of bed as I felt rather like I was coming down with something all day yesterday. As soon as I got home last night from what seemed like an exceptionally long day at work I popped some Advil Cold & Sinus and went to bed.  Finally around 10:30 or so this morning I felt well enough to get up and finally get going.

I wrapped my new scarf that I got from Sheila around my neck and headed down towards the Groton - New London area as I was in need of a few more pictures for a future post that I've been working on and that I realized I was missing a couple crucial photos for.  Oops!  While I was down there I took advantage of the many clouds in the sky to snap a couple of pictures for Tisha's Looking at the Sky on Friday meme - clouds that were vastly different depending on whether I was facing the Groton side of the Thames River ...

Sky on Friday
... or the New London side of the the Thames River ...

Sky on Friday

Believe it or not, all I did was take a picture in one direction and then turn around and take a picture in the other direction. Big difference, eh? If you look closely at the second picture you can still make out a little bit of the brilliant blue sky that was hiding behind all of those dark clouds on the New London side of the river. They usually say if you don't like the weather in New England to wait a minute and this is probably a prime example of that!

Speaking of prime, today is the birthday of one of the dearest people I know and whether he thinks it or not, I daresay that he is entering the prime of his life. If you get a moment, please swing by It's a Blog Eat Blog World and wish my friend Morgen a very happy birthday or if you'd rather pop in on his wicked cool birthday party, click on over to The Work of the Poet where Mary the Teach is throwing one heck of a blindig (that's blog + shindig) complete with cake, games, and party favors! It's up to you whether you want to keep your own underwear on or not!

Happy birthday, Mo, and may you have many, many more that just get better and better!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bridging a Bit of Connecticut History

The Gold Star Bridge

Back in January I wrote a blog post that mentioned the Gold Star Memorial Bridge wherein my virtual and real-life pal Princess Patti left me a comment that said she remembered crossing the Thames River on the old bridge.  I was a bit perplexed as Patti and I are from the same generation and I just couldn't remember there being another Gold Star Bridge though that was always a good possibility that there was as I didn't grow up in the area due to being an Air Force Brat and spending time in quite a few other parts of the country. Still, her comment stuck with me and I figured it was time to do some research and see what I could find out about the Gold Star Memorial Bridge - a bridge that my mother has always hated driving over for as long as I can remember!

The story of the Gold Star Bridge predates the story of the Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate Route 95/395) which began way back in 1955 ~ even before I was born!   It was then that construction began on the turnpike - a six-lane highway, engineered for a design speed of 60 miles per hour, that extended from the New York State border to East Haven. Once past East Haven, the turnpike continued on with four lanes to the Town of Killingly.  With some local exceptions and a change from steel guardrails to Jersey barriers on the narrow median in most places, Interstate 95/395 is the same today as it was back when it first opened in 1958 although it is no longer the toll road that it once was following the removal of the eight barrier toll plazas from the turnpike on October 9th, 1985.

Long before work began on the Connecticut Turnpike though, construction had already begun on what would eventually become known as "the free section" of Interstate 95 that ran between Waterford and Stonington. The first section was originally intended as an improvement to US Route 1 and opened in 1943 as a 3.6-mile-long, four-lane stretch between Waterford and Groton. That stretch included the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, a toll bridge over the Thames River between New London and Groton. This was probably the original Gold Star Memorial Bridge that Patti remembered!

Patrolling underneath the Gold Star Bridge

In 1963 the tolls were removed from the bridge and in the mid-1970's a parallel span over the Thames River was constructed right next to the original bridge. This may be the "new" bridge that Patti was thinking of!  At the same time improvements were made to the original Gold Star Memorial Bridge as well as to the interchanges at the western bridge approach and since then it's pretty much stayed the same.  The twin bridges have eleven spans each, which makes the Gold Star the longest bridge in Connecticut, with an average of 117,000 vehicles a day making the crossing over the Thames River.

During my research I was also able to find out that the bridge was designated as the "Gold Star Memorial Bridge" in honor of those members of the Armed Forces of the United States from Groton, New London, and Waterford who lost their lives during World War I, World War II, and the war in Korea.  When the bridge was named in 1963, I'm pretty sure no one had thought about what toll the Vietnam War was going to take otherwise I'm sure those service members who lost their lives in that horrific campaign would have been honored also.

Gold Star

Perhaps it's only fitting that on the northern side of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge stands the United States Coast Guard Academy on the New London side and on the Groton side, the Navy's very first Submarine Base as well as The Submarine Force Library & Museum which is the Home of the USS Nautilus - the world's first nuclear powered vessel, first ship to go to the North Pole, and first submarine to journey "20,000 Leagues under the sea." Pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday Wanderings ...

Ah, February in Connecticut ... or more appropriately ... Ugh!  February in Connecticut!  Any plans I might have had for yesterday (and there originally were some) had to be rescheduled when the weather decided that I'd really rather spend my day off in the house except for the short foray outside to clean the snow off my car or snap a quick picture from the front steps.  Oh well, I guess it's to be expected this time of year. 
One good thing about being confined to the house, though, was that I got to play with the new toy that my son and his wife got me for Christmas (albeit a little after Christmas as we had to wait for contract renewal and all).  This is my new cell phone - one of them there fancy-dancy iPhone thingamajiggies!  It's been a bit of a challenge learning even the basics on the thing but having a teenager in the house helps as Amanda is much more tech-savvy than I.  She also got an iPhone and has downloaded such fun apps as a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver, Rotary Telephone Dial, and a drawing application of some sort.  

I was able to figure out how to download and use the applications for Facebook and Twitter and then found a few other things like The Weather Channel, a free Wi-Fi locator, a compass, a thermometer, the Travelocity site, Southwest Airlines - you know - useful stuff!   However, there are more apps out there than Carter has pills so I've got no doubt that I'll be finding more and more as time goes on.  I like the free ones - free is good even if I have to put up with the occasional ad or two.  Now as long as I can figure out how to make a phone call on the thing, I'll be good to go!  Of course, I may have to download an application to figure out how to do that ... or at least watch the on-line instructional video or something!  Ah, technology, it keeps us on our toes!
Now then, while I'm showing off new things, I wanted to show you the lovely gift that I received from one of my blog readers and friends on Facebook the other day. Isn't this the prettiest scarf you've ever seen? The gal who sent it - Sheila - used to live in Norwich and now resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She began reading my blog through the Norwich Bulletin and has sent me emails and such telling me about different parts of the city that I might want to check out and do posts on.  I had a Facebook message from her the other day telling me that she was sending a surprise out to me and it arrived at work last Friday.  I was handed the box first thing Sunday morning and this is what I found inside.  The picture probably doesn't really do it justice but as you can see, it fits just fine!
Thank you again, Sheila, and I really LOVE the colors! Feel free to send me a surprise any time!

And finally an update on Tesla - he's doing a LOT better and even though he still hacks a little bit every once in awhile he's got a lot more energy and his appetite has vastly improved.  His disdain for the camera, though, hasn't!

Oh, and as for the other patient?  She's doing much better, too, and can happily go back to school tomorrow now that her short Winter Break is over ... or maybe not so happily! 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Valentine's Meme Comment and My Reply

I received a comment from Mighty Mom on my post yesterday of Queen Mimi's royally decreed meme - "The UnValentine Grumpy Meme" - that I was going to address via email but once I started writing my reply, it seemed to take on more of a life as a blog post rather than a quick reply so I figured why not?  I hadn't done a post yet for today and was struggling to come up with something and this seemed like a good chance to address some of the reasons that I'm not all that keen on Valentine's Day and the once-again associated commercialization of the day.  First off, here's Mighty Mom's comment:
"I love ya Linda, but I'm getting so tired of listening to people whine about St. Valentine's Day. Honestly. When I was single in college a bunch of us threw stag un-valentine's day parties and had a GREAT time. And I've said before, barren women have at least as much gut-wrenching PAIN associated with Mother's Day and yet I don't see them whining and snivelling each May.

St. Valentine's Day is a holiday...specifically a Holy Day recognizing one of the church's more well-known saints. It is a day to celebrate love and lasting a society where we frequently bemoan how easy and prevalent divorce is I would rather see us celebrate relationships and hail people who have managed to stay together while holding onto the hope that everyone find their special someone.

"Every morning you wake up YOU decide what kind of a day you're going to have." Grandma Traver"
Sarah, you make some very valid points and truth be told, had I not been tagged for the meme I wouldn't have said a thing about Valentine's Day one way or another as even though I don't celebrate it - I know that many others do and that's great for them.  The meme seemed like a good way to write about the virtual roses that Dennis had sent me and the virtual candy I sent back to him plus I really didn't want to be thrown into the dungeon! If Queen Mimi tags you, it's best to do the meme!

Seriously, though, as for the religious reasons behind the holiday, I've read various accounts of the two different Valentines (Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni) that the holiday may relate to but no romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these saints who were martyred in AD 269 and 197 respectively. Apparently in Medieval times the name Valentine (derived from the Latin word "valour") was so popular that more than 50 Christian martyrs claimed the name.  These various saints all had a feast day called "St. Valentine's Day" but not a single one of them were associated with romance.

It wasn't until the 14th Century that the holiday first became associated with romantic love when Geoffrey Chaucer - an English author and poet best known for Canterbury Tales - wrote a poem called The Parliament of Fowls to celebrate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard the II to Anne of Bohemia - an occasion which actually occurred on May 3rd.  As was the tradition in his time, Chaucer strove to associate the day with a feast day of one of the saints and he learned through his contacts in Italy that May 3rd was the feast day for Saint Valentine of Genoa, who lived in the 4th century and was the city's first bishop.

Before Chaucer died in 1400,  the shift to February 14th for the lovers' holiday occurred as that day served as a collective feast day for more than a dozen "Saint Valentines".  The imagery that we associate with Valentine's Day - such as flowers and birds and cupids - are more in keeping with the May 3rd date though as those are all Spring-like images. 

Oh, and just to add to the confusion of the religious connotations of the holiday, in 1969 the Catholic Church struck Saint Valentine's Day from its liturgical calendar as part of a series of multicultural reforms that de-emphasized Roman or Italian saints. The saints were not de-canonized or declared nonexistent but merely suffered liturgical demotion and more or less disappeared. Today, February 14th is the day to celebrate a pair of apostles who translated Christian texts into Slavic according to the church's calendar - not too much romantic about that I'm afraid. 

The first valentines in America were exchanged during the Revolutionary War and obviously they were handmade and featured sentimental verses that were written in a flowing script.  In 1849 the first mass-produced valentines in the United States were made just up the road from me in Worcester, Massachusetts by a lady named Esther Howland who took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. Esther paved the way for Valentine's Day to become what is known as a "Hallmark holiday" and since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary."

In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards became the practice of exchanging all sorts of gifts including flowers, chocolates, and the like. In the mid-1980's, the diamond industry jumped onto the proverbial bandwagon touting the day as the perfect one to give jewelry to that special someone.  In other words, what was a nice small holiday to mark the occasion of one's love became a big, huge commercialized undertaking like so many other holidays here in America become. It's rather sad actually which is why when I was married, my husband and I used to make each other handmade Valentines and called it good.

Love doesn't have to be jewelry or flowers or candy or sexy lingerie or any of that other stuff that people are compelled to buy for Valentine's Day and that's where my disgruntlement with the holiday comes in. The emphasis by retailers to shower your love with gifts sort of makes those of us who aren't showered with gifts - be we single people or even people who are in a relationship with a non-romantic type - feel like we are being excluded. Heck, I know more people who are IN relationships that don't like Valentine's Day then those that aren't for the simple reason that their significant other didn't meet the expectations that retailers set for Valentine's Day.   If you aren't in a relationship then you have no expectations nor disappointment when the hoped-for flowers or chocolates don't arrive.

All that said, I totally agree with you that it is a wonderful thing to have a holiday that celebrates lasting love and relationships that have stood the test of time as there are so many these days that don't.  True love should be celebrated and reveled in and I am the first one to stand up and applaud relationships like that.  My parents certainly had one and I always said that was the type of love I wanted - I just wasn't lucky enough to find it like they were.  That doesn't mean that I wake up every morning and think "oh woe is me, I have no one" as I don't.  I wake up every morning and I'm thankful for my life and for the fact that even though I don't have a male significant other that doesn't define my life and who I am or what kind of day I'm going to have.  Sure, it would be great to find the ying to my yang but if it doesn't happen that's okay and I'm not bitter about it.  Most of the time!

Your Grandma Travers was most definitely right in that YOU decide what kind of day you're going to have and truth be told, most of my days are pretty darned good even without chocolates, flowers, and jewelry.  Oh, and as for Mother's Day, not all women may be mothers themselves either by choice or not however, everyone HAS a mother (or sometimes that's sadly read as "had" a mother) and perhaps that's where less whining comes in for that holiday - which is yet another that has become way too commercialized it seems.  At least in my own humble opinion. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

The UnValentine Grumpy Meme

Oh dear ... it appears that Queen Mimi is in a bit of a mood over at Bloggingham after what must have been a royally-bad Valentine's Day as she's proclaimed that a meme needs to be done or else those of us tagged will be tossed into the dungeon even if we hold a coveted get-out-of-the-dungeon-free card. Darned royalty can be so mercurial and unforgiving sometimes!

Ah well, not wanting to subject my poor old bad back to the dampness in the dungeon I guess I shall just have to participate even though just typing the words "Valentine's Day" makes my fingers burn and my eyes water. It's a holiday I boycott until the day after when a trip to the local CVS rewards one with 75% off boxes of chocolates that one can then use to drown his/her sorrow in for not actually getting any the day before! Anyway, I digress ... on to the bloody royally-declared meme!

1.  I, Mimi Pencil Skirt Peace Woman, have officially declared war on Valentine's Day. If I see one more chocolate rose covered in stupid red tin foil paper I'm gonna have a fit. What did you get for Valentine's Day?

I got this lovely virtual vase of virtual flowers from Dennis, the supervisor on duty at work yesterday, who had told me he would get me flowers when I snarled at him in response to his cheery "Happy Valentine's Day" greeting!  The sort-of virtual card read, "They would only deliver electronically because it's Sunday."

2. What will you miss most about Valentine's Day?
I can tell you what I won't miss! Those darned jewelry commercials that haunt me throughout all of Christmas and then rear their ugly heads again for Valentine's Day!  I don't care if "he went to Jared's" -

 or if "every kiss begins with Kay" -

I honestly don't know why I find those commercials so painful but they are so begone with them until next Christmas when they can once again turn the knife in my heart!

3. What could you have done differently yesterday to make the day sweeter?
I suppose I could have not snarled at poor Dennis and merely said "Thank you" in response to his cheery "Happy Valentine's Day!" greeting.

4. How many roses make a dozen?
Math?  We're doing math here now?  It's never been my strong suit but I'm going to go with twelve - unless there's such a thing as a Baker's Dozen of roses in which case there would be thirteen but not only am I not good at math but I haven't received a bouquet of roses since the first Bush Administration so I've definitely forgotten how many there are supposed to be. 

5. You and your love are getting matching tattoos for Valentine's Day. What will they be?
Uhm, your Majesty? This would first require me to have "a love" so I'm going to humbly pass on this particular non-applicable question. 

6. My kingdom for a man who can spell. I am so tired of getting text messages from college educated 45 yr old men like .....I miss u ....wat up?.... B there by 8... or the ever popular U home?  Does your significant other have an annoying cute little habit you'd like to break?
Again you are implying that I have a significant other ... See the answer to question 5 above!

7. What did you get someone for Valentine's Day?
Well, of course I had to get something for Dennis after he gave me that beautiful bouquet of virtual roses, right?  I got him these -

He declared them to be the best-tasting virtual chocolates he had ever received!  Added bonus was he could eat the whole box in one sitting and not go into sugar-overload!

8. No one is looking. I promise. Write one word on this candy heart you've been dying to say to a romantic connection from your past. I will not tell. - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

9. Be a poet. Write a 4-line poem starting with Roses are red....
Roses are red ...
Or so I've been told!
The last time I got them,
I was 35-years old!
(You do the math!)

10. What song best describes your Valentine's Day experience this year?
Oh come on now!  What other song was I going to pick?!?  On the bright side, the video has clips of Colin Firth from Bridget Jones's Diary - rowr! 

11. Two cupids are in a knock down drag out fight on the floor of the Senate.  One is a constituent from Venus, the other from Mars.  What is the name of the legislation are they fighting over? 
Why two cherubs would ever subject themselves to the mess that is Washington is beyond me, they're probably fighting over who took the wrong turn in Harper's Ferry that landed them there!

Okay, can I stay out of the dungeon now, Your Majesty?  Please??  And I do hope that everyone else had a lovely Valentine's Day - honest!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Things That Make You Go "Huh???"

Several weeks ago Amanda and I went out for lunch on a Saturday afternoon - I can't quite remember where at this point but that's okay as the location doesn't really matter.   After eating I made a stop by the ladies room and as I was drying my hands I happened to look over at the familiar Koala Kare diaper changing station that I'm sure many of you have seen in various restrooms throughout the country.  It was then that I saw something that made me say "Huh??" before I pulled my cell phone out to take a picture.

See that little block of writing over there to the right of the picture?  The block that looks like it contains some sort of manufacturer's instructions.  You know, the usual "This product manufactured by so-and-so with such-and-such a patent and blah, blah, blah"- right?  Wrong! Take a closer look at what that really is ...

Due to the poor quality of my cell phone pictures, I had to edit the shot a little bit so that you could see what I'm talking about here but as you can not-so-plainly see - those are instructions in braille

I stood there for a moment trying to picture some poor visually-impaired woman coming into the ladies room, feeling around for the changing station, and then trying to read the instructions all the while balancing a crying baby or toddler who was in desperate need of a diaper change. I'm sure it's just another reason that I am going to someday burn in hell but the whole thing struck me as rather funny and I just couldn't for the life of me figure out the logistics of why?? 

I'm not at all adverse to someone filling me in on this one if anyone knows why otherwise I may have to continue to say "Huh??" every time I see one of those changing stations.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Paging Doctor Mom!

Friday ended up being kind of a screwed-up day for me when the other two members of the household came down with various ailments and I had to do that thing we Moms do best - take care of them both.

Upon my returning home from work Thursday night around 11:15, Amanda greeted me with the words "Feel my forehead".  Sure enough, she was pretty warm to the touch and was also complaining of a sore throat and headache.  Advil Cold & Sinus was administered and it was discussed whether she should go to school in the morning or not.  The final decision was left up in the air depending on how she felt at 6:00 a.m.

In the meantime, Tesla was looking and sounding decidely lousy with some wheezing, a runny nose, and a major case of lethargy.  Amanda said he'd been basically laying around all day and had only eaten a little bit around 6:00.  Not knowing much about overall cat health, I sought advice via Yahoo! Instant Messenger from Not The Mama (aka Mo) as he's the closest thing to a WebVet I know! Mo said it sounded like Tesla had a cold and perhaps I could try giving him some ground up Lysine in his kibble or wet food.  Apparently the Lysine helps cats' glands to open up and is the equivalent of we humans popping extra Vitamin C when we get a cold.

Not having any Lysine in the house I threw my coat back again and drove over to the 24-hour Walgreen's to get some.  I ground it up as instructed, mixed some of it in with a bit of Fancy Feast Salmon, and set it in front of Tesla who just stood there and looked at the dish totally indifferent to the succulent salmon smell.  He looked pathetically at the food, over at me, down at his water, back over at me, and then just stood there looking forlorn and a bit wobbly.  At that point Amanda scooped the little guy up and took him off to her room where both sickly ones crawled into bed for the night. 

Around 6:00 a.m. Friday morning Amanda poked her head into my room where I wasn't able to detect any more trace of fever but she said that her throat still felt like it was on fire and she felt congested.  It was only a half day at school - mostly taken up by a pep rally that Amanda had no desire to go to anyway - so I told her to go back to bed while I placed a call to the Admissions Secretary all the while mumbling about Amanda having her father's sickly disposition.  Shortly after that, I fell back to sleep as getting up at 6:00 a.m. on my day off is very, very rarely on the agenda!

Several hours later I got up and poked my head into Amanda's room to see how she and Tesla were doing.  Tesla poked his head up from behind Amanda's head and gave me that patented "I'm sick, Mom" look that kids are so good at.  Oy.  It was time to call the vet.

After I explained to the receptionist what was going on she said they had an opening in about half an hour so I told Amanda to get dressed, get Tesla in his carrier, and off we went to the Animal Hospital just up the road a bit where we walked into a lobby full of dogs - big, drooly, noisy, fur-shedding dogs that caused my throat to narrow, my nose to run, and my eyes to itch.  Oh swell.  For his part, Tesla sat quietly in his carrier and shook like the proverbial leaf in a high wind.

Luckily we didn't have to wait long before we were shown into an examination room where Tesla was taken out of his carrier, placed on the scale to weigh in at a whooping 7.75 pounds, and then just forlornly sat there on the scale looking around and not moving.  I guess I can't say that I blame him - I don't think I would have been moving either at that point!  When the vet came in she gave him a thorough going-over before diagnosing him with a classic upper respiratory infection probably brought on by the stress of being in a shelter and then being in a new home and trying to make all the adjustments.  She said it's very common with cats that have come from shelters to get these infections but the good thing was his heart and lungs sounded good and she didn't think it was anything more serious.  We were sent home with antibiotics that Tesla gets twice a day until gone, a couple special cans of cat food, instructions to bring him back if he didn't seem better in 24 hours, and a lower balance in my checking account. 

Shortly after we got home I was happy to see Tesla munching away on some kibble (which I had mixed the other half of the Lycine tablet in) and then he climbed up to take a nap.  His wheezing already seemed better so I took that as a good sign that he'd be feeling fine pretty soon. 

In the meantime, the two-footed kid still wasn't feeling all that great and mentioned that her chest was starting to feel a little tight again. Naturally Amanda had no clue where her inhaler was and with her back-up one being at school it certainly wasn't going to do her a lot of good.  Luckily she had one refill left on her prescription so I told her I was going to get it filled and then visit my mom for a bit as the plan had been to go up and visit her today anyway.  Amanda was instructed to stay home and take one of her patented really long, really hot showers and put Tesla in the bathroom when she did so as the vet had said that the steam would help loosen his congestion. If she felt like she needed it, she was to take more Advil Cold & Sinus, too.

As I left the house I grabbed my camera on the off-chance that I had the opportunity to take some pictures on what was shaping up to be a beautiful day but I ended up just spending the afternoon visiting with my Mom instead - a much better use of my time I think.  When I got home Amanda said she was feeling a lot better and reported that Tesla had managed to eat a bit again but had otherwise spent most of the day sleeping.  I think perhaps he has the convalescing thing down to a science!

We gave Tesla round two of his antibiotics in the evening so I'm hoping that once he gets a couple more doses down his throat today that he'll have made a marked improvement and it won't be back to the vet anytime soon.  I'm hoping the other sickly one gets past her ailments soon, too.  If not, she's got until Wednesday to recover as she's out of school until then for the President's Day break.

In the meantime, perhaps I should start popping some Lysine and Vitamin C myself - just in case!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Looking at the Sky on Friday

It snowed here in Connecticut on Wednesday - though thankfully not the big behemoth of a snowstorm that they were originally warning us about - the day before that, though, was an absolutely picture-perfect day with beautiful clear February skies and temperatures in the low 40's. It was the type of day that just screamed at me to go out and find a picture for Tisha's Looking at the Sky on Friday meme and who am I to refuse the call of a meme?  Exactly!  So I set off down to the Groton side of the Thames River where I was able to capture this shot of a seagull in flight:


Sometimes I just get lucky! Speaking of getting lucky, click on over to today's Looking at the Sky on Friday and see what sorts of skies Tisha's other participants have to offer - I bet you luck out and find there are some beautiful ones!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winding My Way Over to Thread City

Having developed something of an obsession with trying to get "the perfect train picture", when I saw that last Friday had dawned bright and sunny I thought about heading down to my usual haunt by the tracks near Yantic Falls.  I was thwarted from proceeding with that plan when, upon leaving the house with my Nikon in hand, I heard a distinctive rumble in the distance behind Yantic Cemetery which I knew to be the train already rumbling through.  Sure enough, moments later I heard the horn sound near the crossing on New London Turnpike and knew that if I wanted to try to get some pictures that morning I was going to have to hop in the car and drive towards Windham where the train was heading.  It took me all of 30 seconds to decide to give it a go and off I went!  The game was afoot!

As I drove up Route 32 towards Franklin Hill I kept one eye on traffic and one eye on the tracks to the left of me where pretty soon I spied the now-familiar-to-me NECR Engine 3840 hauling a line of boxcars westward.  Perfect!  The train's current location and rate of speed gave me plenty of time to make the drive over to Windham and find a place to park near the legendary Frog Bridge where I was sure I could get a nice shot of the train before it passed under the bridge and into the railyard.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Frog Bridge you're missing a lovely piece of American roadside kitsch that has attracted people from miles and mile around (why even Lois and Hank have seen it!).  Officially known as the Thread City Crossing, the new bridge replaces an older bridge 900 feet to the east that carried Windham Road in Willimantic from Route 32 across to Route 66.  The original bridge was built in 1857 and though plans were drawn up in 1872 for a new bridge, it wasn't until 1991 when the State of Connecticut finally approved funding for a new bridge.

After the State DOT presented their plans for the new bridge, local residents deemed it to be too bland and pressured the State for something with a little more character.  Surprisingly the State relented and an architect was brought on board who weaved a little bit of history and a little bit of whimsy into the final design. Both of those elements are represented in these giant spools of thread topped by 12-foot tall bronze frogs.

Why spools of thread and frogs you may ask?  Elementary, my dear readers!  Once known as "Thread City," Willimantic was the headquarters of the American Thread Company, one of the world's leading thread manufacturers.Windham Mills, the old thread factory - or the Tread Mill as my old Yankee grandfather called it! - is in sight of the bridge and that's why there are not only the eight large cement spools on the bridge but also the smaller ones that support the decorative lampposts.

Now as for the frogs ... Windham's frogs are quite legendary and even graced the side of my high school class ring long before they sat guarding the ends of the Thread City Crossing.  The reason for that can be found in the following account of Windham's famous frog fight which is condensed from David E. Phillips' Legendary Connecticut:
"In 1754 Windham's Colonel Eliphalet Dyer raised a local regiment to fight in the French and Indian War. Those left behind felt vulnerable to attack. The Windhamites worst fears seemed realized during a steamy-hot June night when unearthly screams emanated from the darkness: Valiant villagers grabbed muskets and fired blindly into the night.' Some believed that the Day of Judgment had arrived, and gave prayer. Others hid under their beds. .

The awful truth was revealed at dawn. Several hundred dead and dying bullfrogs were discovered in a dried-up millpond, two miles east of the village center. They had fought to the death in futile attempts to find moisture in the drought-ridden pond. Windham became forever known as the scene of the "Battle of the Frogs."
Well, stodgy New Englanders or not, if you can't have a sense of humor about something like that then there's something wrong with you so descendants of the embarrassed residents later made the bullfrog-on-a-spool the town symbol and sat that symbol prominently at the ends of the the most prominent gateway to the city of Willimantic. I've got no doubt that it was those large bronze frogs, sculpted by Leo Jensen of Ivoryton, Conn., that helped the Federal Highway Administration in making its decision to award the Frog Bridge an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Highway Design in the category of Historic Preservation in 2002!

In 2004, the Town of Windham gave the four giant frogs "official" names - Willy, Manny, Windy and Swifty. The names Willy and Manny combine for Willimantic; Windy is for Windham; and Swifty is a reference to Willimantic, which is Algonquin for "the land of the swift running water". I'm not sure who is who, though! Perhaps a reader can help us out with that one?

Personally, frogs have always sort of creeped me out - especially the giant golf ball-eating ones at the Chanticlair Golf Course in Colchester - but I have to admit that these guys are rather handsome - especially when sporting those jaunty red scarves for winter.  As long as I don't have any strange dreams about being chased by huge green frogs then I can definitely see the whimsy here and I always appreciate the history!

Oh, and lest I forget, there was another reason for my driving over to Willimantic other than taking pictures of the Frog Bridge ...

Engine 3840 finally caught up to me just about the time I finished snapping photos of frogs and I was able to get several shots before it disappeared under the watchful eyes of Windham's guardians.  Well, okay, sure ... so the frogs are looking in the opposite direction but you know what I mean!

All in all it was a pretty successful Friday morning jaunt as I captured not just the frogs but also the train I was in pursuit of.  If you'd like to see more train pictures from the morning feel free to click on over to my Flickr "P&W, NECR, and Amtrak trains" set - a set I seem to be adding to on a fairly regular basis while thoroughly enjoying the "hunt"!

Oh, and if you're ever in the neighborhood, hop on over to the Frog Bridge for a look-see!